Frazier Piano Studio

Circle of 5ths Exercises

Published by Ryan Frazier
The Mersenne star

This is a progression of exercises to master the circle of 5ths. Any musician worth his salt should know the circle of 5ths inside and out. It is fundamental to all styles of (Western) music, including Classical and Jazz.

The circle of 5ths
By Just plain Bill - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Every exercise goes through the circle to the left or counter-clockwise. This establishes a V–I relationship (like C→F). The other way is a IV–I relationship (as in C→G), which is not what we want.

How to use this guide

If you can play all your Major scales reasonably well, you are ready for these exercises.

The exercises only show the first couple of keys in the circle of 5ths. It is up to you to do the whole circle of fifths. Also don’t start at C major every time. Mix it up and start at any point in the circle of 5ths. Later on the exercises can be inverted. Make sure you practice all inversions.

Write it out

To start you should be able to write out the circle of 5ths. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle with 12 ticks on in like a clock and write out the letter names of the circle.

Now go to the keyboard and play the following exercises, all the way around the circle.

Single note

Circle of 5ths with single note
single note

Now to be more compact let’s alternate the direction, up and down, of the previous exercise. It will go down a 5th then up a 4th.

To be clear, all of these exercises go all the way around the circle. The following example demonstrates this. It starts at c and ends with c. Most of the exercises in this guide will only show the first 4 or 5 chords. It is up to you to figure it out for the rest of the circle.

Circle of 5ths with single note alternating
single note alternating

Triads

Circle of 5ths with triads
triads

Triad inversions

Circle of 5ths with triads in simple inversion
triads in simple inversion
Circle of 5ths with triad inversion with added bass note
triad inversion with added bass note
Circle of 5ths with triad inversion ascending only
triad inversion ascending only

Root–3rd–7th

Now we start getting into more Jazzy voicings.

Circle of 5ths with major 7ths root - 3rd - 7th
major 7ths root–3rd–7th

You should always practice these in both inversions. Once starting with the 3rd on the bottom and the other with the 7th.

Circle of 5ths with major 7ths root - 3rd - 7th flipped
major 7ths root–3rd–7th flipped

And then we will do dominant 7ths and minor 7ths.

Circle of 5ths with minor 7ths root - 3rd - 7th
minor 7ths root–3rd–7th
Circle of 5ths with dominant 7ths root - 3rd - 7th
dominant 7ths root–3rd–7th

ii–V–I

Now we can put our 3 different 7th chords into a progression. This is the most basic and useful chord progression.

The two five one progression
The ii–V–I progression

We can extend it by prepending a vi chord to it.

The six two five one progression
The vi–ii–V–I progression

A common way to practice the ii–V–I progression is to chain them together like this:

practicing the two five one progression
practicing the ii–V–I progression

Rootless voicings

This is really weird if you’ve never heard rootless voicings. Stick with it. You can do cool jazz stuff with it later on. It will also forever change how you hear chords and voicings.

So to begin, let’s take what our right hand was doing and put it in the left hand. I have marked the roots for reference. Sometimes when I practice some weird rootless voicing, I cross over my right hand and play the root.

Rootless circle of 5ths
Rootless circle of 5ths

You will want to practice everything inverted as well. Like this:

Rootless circle of 5ths flipped
Rootless circle of 5ths flipped

Now you can add in the 9th above or the 5th. Now we are getting into something not so bare.

Rootless circle of 5ths with added 9th
Rootless circle of 5ths with added 9th
Rootless circle of 5ths flipped with added 5th
Rootless circle of 5ths flipped with added 5th

This can be easily adapted for dominant 7ths or minor 7ths.

Rootless circle of 5ths dominant 7ths with added 5th
dominant 7ths with added 5th

You can do the same thing with the ii–V–I progression from above.

For a comprehensive jazz voicing book see Jazz Keyboard Harmony. I have many Jazz harmonization books and this one is the best of it’s kind. It’s very thorough.

Cover tiny file look inside Jazz Keyboard Harmony - Voicing Method For All Musicians Composed by Phil DeGreg. This edition: spiral-bound. Book & CD. Published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz (JA.JKH).

Now your right hand is free to do some cool bebop lick like this:

Rootless circle of 5ths with bebop lick
Rootless circle of 5ths with bebop lick

Traditional Voiceleading (non-Jazz)

circle of 5ths with 1st inversion
using 1st inversion

Notice here that the thumb of the right hand follows the chromatic scale downward. This is very similar to the dominant chords in Root–3rd–7th. Notice the nice voice leading of the the tri-tone resolving outward to the 6th.

circle of 5ths with 7th chords
using 7th chords

And now we’ll do some diatonic (all in the same key) exercises. Of course you will want to transpose these and practice in all 12 keys.

Diatonic circle of 5ths
Diatonic circle of 5ths

And now the minor version. Notice here that the first 3 chords sound like they are in E-flat (it’s actually a ii–V–I progression). E-flat is the relative major of c minor. A common way to modulate to the relative major is to use the flat VII chord.

Minor diatonic circle of 5ths
Minor diatonic circle of 5ths

And with a little tweak we can do the Neopolitan:

Minor diatonic circle of 5ths with Neopolitan
Minor diatonic circle of 5ths with Neopolitan

P.S. The heading picture is the Mersenne Star. The circle of fifths is drawn with all intervals and relationships by French mathematician, Marin Mersenne.

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